So Long 2016 and Buh-Bye Clintonism

So long 2016. It’s been awful knowing you. You gave us Syria, Zika, Nice, and Brussels. And you took Bowie, Prince, Ali and Cohen. That is quite possibly the worst deal since President Obama gave Iran billions in cash and the green light to enrich uranium in return for…the ability to ask nicely for permission to inspect nuclear facilities? Oh, that deal happened this year too? Damn.

But the year wasn’t all bad. After all, it spelled the end of Clintonism. Todd Purdue writes for Politico:

By all accounts, Bill and Hillary Clinton never had any [qualms about building a family political empire], and now their quarter-century project to build a mutual buy-one, get-one-free Clinton dynasty has ended in her defeat, and their joint departure from the center of the national political stage they had hoped to occupy for another eight years. Their exit amounts to a finale not just for themselves, but for Clintonism as a working political ideology and electoral strategy.

Of course, Clintonism evolved from the pragmatic centrism of Bill in the early 1990s to the leftist populism of Hillary in 2016. President Clinton was an expert at triangulating his positions with that of the Republican congressional majority, allowing him to successfully co-opt conservative ideas into political successes. There’s a reason that tremendous strides were made under his watch in reducing the size of government, achieving a balanced budget, being tough (but unfortunately, not smart) on crime, and promoting work rather than welfare.

But Hillary Clinton engaged in a different sort of triangulation, one that would redefine and ultimately doom Clintonism. Rather than advocate policies that were appealing to the political center, she catered to the leftist elements of her party, a move that made her appear craven to Democrats and radical to would-be supporters.

To be fair to Clinton, she didn’t necessarily travel to the political no-man’s land willingly. Instead as satirist Dave Barry writes, she faced “an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, a feisty 217-year-old Vermont senator with a message of socialism, but the good kind of socialism where everybody gets a lot of free stuff, not the kind where starving people fight over who gets the lone remaining beet at the co-op.” Silly, yes. But it is a hyperbolic version of the legitimate, and serious concerns that a lot of voters had about Democrats’ dramatic turn toward big government at its worst.

In that sense, 2016 was not just the end of Clintonism, it was the death knell for Obama-ism. Purdue writes:

In 2008, Barack Obama explicitly campaigned against what he saw as the small-bore, one-from-column-A and two-from-column-B policy initiatives—school uniforms and the V-chip to block violence on television—of the Clinton years. Rejecting the political advice of his Clinton-era chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, he swung for the fences instead, jammed health care reform through Congress on the narrowest of partisan votes, and paid a terrible political price, even while governing in most other ways as a pragmatic Clinton-style centrist. …

Clinton was trapped, too, by her service as Obama’s secretary of state and her need to appeal to his winning coalition. She could not, or would not, say aloud what others in her party knew: That Obama had not only largely overlooked the concerns of white working-class voters but, with his health care overhaul, had been seen as punishing them financially to provide new benefits to the poorest Americans.

President Obama bet big on sweeping, Scandinavian-style reforms. The problem, as he found out, is that to build a cradle-to-the-grave welfare state inevitably involves levying substantial taxes on the middle and working classes. There is no “free.” And there is no way to pay for the vision purely through higher taxes on the rich. As a result, he didn’t just lose his gamble, he further soured voters on the Democrat brand, which came to be one of coastal elites playing the role of paternalistic puppet-masters deciding how best to allocate money and resources.

It’s not exactly surprising then that voters rebelled. Not only were they not receiving the benefits that were promised to them, they were now being asked to pay for promises made to others.

Both Clintonism, as Hillary embodied it, and Obama-ism were put to the test in 2016 and found wanting. As Purdue concludes, Democrats task in 2017, “will be the same as Bill Clinton’s was 25 years ago: to persuade the Democratic Party to stop making the same mistakes over and over and expecting a different result.” If that’s the case, it could be a long year for the stubborn donkeys.